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Indian cabinet approves anti-graft bill

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The proposed law would create a powerful new ombudsman tasked with probing and prosecuting senior politicians and civil servants suspected of graft.. — Photo by AP

NEW DELHI: India's cabinet on Tuesday approved a landmark anti-corruption bill which was the focus of nationwide demonstrations in August that rocked the government, state television said.

The cabinet meeting headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh approved the “Lokpal” or ombudsman bill, Doordarshan television said.

“Changes to some of the bill's provisions have been made,” it said, adding Prime Minister Manmohan Singh headed the cabinet meeting.

The draft law would be introduced in parliament on Thursday, the Press Trust of India (PTI) said.

The proposed law would create a powerful new ombudsman tasked with probing and prosecuting senior politicians and civil servants suspected of graft.

In August, veteran Indian activist Anna Hazare held a 12-day hunger strike to protest against an initial draft of the bill, saying it was a toothless measure incapable of curbing the rampant corruption it was meant to target.

His campaign brought millions of ordinary Indians onto the streets in cities across the country, in a national outpouring of anger and frustration at the culture of bribery and kick-backs that permeates every level of Indian society.

The public response was a shock for premier Singh's coalition government, which has been tainted by a series of high-profile corruption scandals.

Exact details of the approved version of the bill were not immediately known, but PTI and Doordarshan both reported the ombudsman will have limited jurisdiction over the prime minister.

The main dispute has been over who would fall under the new official's ambit, with the Hazare campaign insisting that it should include the prime minister, the judiciary and lower-level civil servants.

Earlier Tuesday, Hazare renewed his threat to launch a second hunger strike for three days from December 27 to protest what he asserted was government attempts to dilute the bill's provisions.

The current parliamentary session was scheduled to end on Wednesday, but the parliamentary affairs minister's office said the house would reconvene for three days from December 27 to consider a number of outstanding bills.

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